Tag Archives: Caregiving

Courage at Twilight: Getting Ready

For a second time, United Health Care served a termination notice, ending Dad’s care the next day. Sarah scrambled to assemble her second appeal, bolstered by Dad’s nurse and physical therapist who averred he “would benefit from continued skilled therapy to maximize patient’s independence at home and reduce rehospitalization risk.”  And for the second time the appeal was granted only after Dad was to have been expelled.  But we only need two more days, and then he will be coming home.  Not to his own bed, sadly, but to a hospital bed on the main floor, in the office and library we transformed into a bedroom, still finding room for a computer—Mom’s wedding portrait sits framed on the desk these 60 years later—and a shelf full of his favorite books, with paintings of Jesus on the walls.  The bed will come in two days, and I will assemble the commode tomorrow.  In the meantime, Dad has worked hard pushing the walker down the hall and climbing up and down two railed stairs, after which he is exhausted for hours.  Still, he makes incremental progress every day.  With new hope, lost for a time, he has been hinting stubbornly that he anticipates settling back into his old-friend habits of reading late into the night and climbing the stairs alone at 3:00 a.m. to fall into bed, and arising at 10:00 a.m. to shower and dress and to brave the stairs and eat breakfast at noon.  And my mind shudders from the memories of pulling him up the stairs with a belt and lifting him off the toilet and hoisting him into bed, repeatedly, and his trembling and groaning and collapsing under me, and the thought of continuing fills me with dread and frustration and my own trembling, and I want to scream that I’m not doing this anymore!!! In my mind I have been rehearsing speeches to him about how his unhealthy night-owl habits not only weaken him but frighten and exhaust Mom and me, and how the thought of picking up where we left off the day of the ambulance ride, as if that ride had never happened, and thinking absurdly that I’m all better now when he almost died and he still barely can move and each step alone on the stairs is a tooth-clenching death dare.  The extent of Dad’s recovery is remarkable; I had felt the reaper breathing foully on me from too close.  Still, the thought of Dad’s homecoming has brought me no joy, only stress and anxiety and the phantom smell of raw onions, and visions of mayonnaise smeared on the kitchen counter, and the awful wait as Dad somehow pulls himself slowly up 16 stairs at 3:00 in the morning when I should be sleeping soundly but cannot for knowing how impossibly difficult each stair is to step up, and how easily he could misstep and tumble to the landing in a crumpled pile, mooting in three seconds the so-long month of pains and efforts, setbacks and struggles, fears and tearful longings, and the small but hard-won victories during four weeks of hospitalization and convalescence—all that for nothing, all that for the pride of doing it my way.

(Pictured above, Dad’s office-turned-bedroom awaiting his hospital bed, and him.)

Courage at Twilight: So Many Cards

Cards have begun to pour in from the Church primary children, and from some of the men and women of the neighborhood, and from family members, and former missionaries, all with sincere and adorable and tender messages to Dad, including great-grandchild scribbles. We taped all the cards to Dad’s rehab room wall, where he must see them every day, to remind him that many people love him and hope for his healing and return home.

You Are the Best! 

Never Give Up! 

I want to play Legos at your house. 

Hurry up and get better.  We miss you at church!

I love you so much!

I hope you get well soon!

Please know you’re in our prayers and thoughts.

Your awesome!

I think about you every day!

I like to play outside and look for pinecones in your backyard. 

I hope you get better soon.

Hoping and praying for you every day.

Feel beder.

You are the goodest Baker in the world.

You’re cool!

We love you.

You can do this.  Never give up.

I love you Grandpa.

Courage at Twilight: Simple Gifts

Vases of aromatic garden flowers.  A gallon of two-percent milk.  Enormous sweet grapes on a plate.  Crayon-colored cards for dear Brother Baker from Church primary children who don’t know who he is but still care.  Burger King Whopper and fries: Mom’s favorite.  Rides to the hospital from women who know the way well—a beloved son with bacterial meningitis; a husband who fell from a second-story ladder; an amputation gone wrong—and visiting along the way.  Baked chicken salad wrapped in puff pastry.  Soups and a salad.  Giant chocolate chip muffins.  A man on a bicycle checks my sprinkler leak, and will get back to me.  Chocolate-caramel brownies—oh my.  Our names prayed over in temples across the world.  Smiles, and waves, and inquiries: How’s Nelson?  Well-wishes.  A quiet house.  Love, and hope for tomorrow.

Courage at Twilight: Visiting Hours

Visiting hours are 9 to 9, which seems quite generous. The other rule, however, is not.  Only two visitors at a time.    Despite the three-person couch and other chairs and the spacious room.  So, my saintly 83-year-old mother, who has gone to the hospital for eight days straight, must leave her sick husband’s side for two neighbors, or two siblings, or two children, or two grandchildren to visit.  Or Mom stays in the room and only one other visitor is permitted.  I had seen the rule on signs in the elevator, nursing station, and the patient room doors.  But since none of the staff had troubled us over three visitors, or four, for five consecutive days, and since we are quiet, peaceful, clean, and helpful people, I thought perhaps the hospital did not mind so much.  Not so.  On day six Big Meanie nurse instructed all but two family members to leave.  It’s IMC’s rule.  I did not argue or accuse or abuse, but I did inquire, in an effort to understand, and to explore flexibility.  Did it make a difference that I am Dad’s attorney in fact and have his advanced directive in my briefcase?  I’m sorry, but no.  Did it change things if I am the authorized physician contact for when the doctors stop by to explain their diagnostic and treatment efforts?  No.  What about the fact that we are all Covid-19 vaccinated and boosted?  No.  Did it make a difference if immediate family were gathered bedside to perform my Church’s religious ceremony of invoking the power of faith and pronouncing a blessing of health and healing on the sick?  No, and that isn’t the case here anyway.  Well, it was the case when Dad’s three siblings and their spouses, and my brother and sister and me, gathered around him to give him such a blessing.  A beautiful thing for loving, spiritual family to do, perhaps the last opportunity to do such a thing for Dad, to offer this expression of faith and hope and love, and perhaps of good-bye.  Did you know that we have been very helpful to the nursing and therapy staff, adjusting the bed angle and height, feeding Dad, sponging him off, helping slide him head-ward when he had slipped down the sloping mattress, brushing his teeth, shaving his chin, helping him stand, pivot, transfer, use the toilet, take a seated shower, stand, pivot, transfer back to the bed?  For all her strength and grace and experience, Heather could not have done it all without us, and thanked us for our contribution and learned expertise.  So, I left Dad’s room and walked down the hall to sit uselessly on a cracked and stained sofa, where I could not help or comfort or observe.  I felt angry at the rule, and thought it inhumane—a bureaucratic pronouncement out of context.  (I learned later that the two-visitor limitation was not IMC policy, which was, instead: Maximum number of visitors at the bedside is determined at the discretion of the care team.  Discretion was allowed, after all.)  I felt angry at Big Meanie nurse who enforced the rule so militantly.  And after two days she went off shift and the familiar smiling nursing staff welcomed us all back to be helpful and complimentary and appreciative.  To be present.  For our father.  For each other.

 

(Photo from intermountainhealthcare.org, use pursuant to the fair use doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: Being Useful

I made the mistake of characterizing Steven’s help as heroic.  With a look of alarm, he disclaimed any hint of heroism.  Even before his reaction, I realized that “heroic” was not the right word.  “You’re a hero” is a lazy cliché, and I should have made an effort to find more accurate words.  He supplied them for me: “I was just glad to have been useful.”  I had watched him use his own feet to move Dad’s feet up the stairs and across the room to the bathroom or bed.  I had watched him help Dad shower in the hospital, passing dallops of soap to Dad’s own hands, and washing Dad’s inaccessible extremities.  Nurse Chloe had gently adhered special heel bandages because Dad’s heels pressing into the mattress, hour upon hour, day after day, had begun to blister his skin, and we worried the tissue would die from insufficient circulation.  And she had wrapped his feet and ankles in foot-shaped pillows to further reduce diabetic risk.  And my brother had used sanitary wipes to scrub Dad’s soiled shoes clean and white and like new.  He certainly had been useful, indispensable even.  And that is what sons and daughters ought to be in their parents’ old age: not heroes, but servants.  Useful.  Doing what needs to be done.  Meaning well while acting in all their weakness.  And they were.  And I naturally thought of another servant who washed out the stains and washed the feet and set the example for us all.  Steven flew home today, a home far away—and when people tell me I’m heroic, now, I demur, and reply that I am just glad to have been useful.

Photo above: a fresh bouquet today for Mom from a neighbor Church member.

Courage at Twilight: So Many Questions

Is this the end?  Will he get better?  What help do I ask for?  What help do I accept?  How do we get him to the bathroom, up the stairs, into bed?  Do we carry him down the stairs and to the car and drive him to the hospital, or do we call 911 because we cannot safely manage?  Did you bring his hearing aids?  What brought you to the emergency room today?  Is a lumbar puncture more dangerous than a spinal tap (or are they the same thing)?  What is the difference between meningitis and encephalitis?  Will he ever come home?  What do I tell the family?  And what do I not tell?  Is the occupational therapist single?  Why won’t he eat?  How do I manage multiple group texts, frequent updates wanted?  Why am I binging on onion rings and chocolate ice cream?  Why am I so tired?  Why am I so tense?  Why do I want to vomit?  Will I get through this?  How am I going to get through this?  What will I do when my brother goes home?  What are the visiting hours?  Who will take care of Mom when I’m at work?  Will you pray for him, please?  Do you want to watch TV?  A movie?  High Road to China or White Nights or Nacho Libre or The Scarlet Pimpernel?  Do you have a Galaxy S9 charging cord?  How are his blood glucose levels?  I wish I could retire.  What are their insurance co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums?  How can I get all my work done?  Will the mayor fire me?  Why do my colleagues keep sending me work when they know where I am?  Did the nurse sponge his back and give him his insulin shot?  Why is his knee pain so intense?  Why is the knee fluid brown?  Why won’t he take the narcotic?  Why won’t he swallow?  Can he swallow?  What do I do if he chokes on his food?  Who brought the pretty flowers, the red and white carnations wrapped in baby’s breath?  Do you have any questions, sir?  Will I know when it’s time to gather the family?  Did you bring his hearing aid batteries?  What did you have for lunch?  Where did we leave off with James Herriot?  Wasn’t that a lovely story?  How were your onion rings, Mom?  Does he have an advanced directive?  What is your name and what day is it and where are you right now and who is the president of the United States?  Do you consent to the procedure on Mr. Baker’s behalf?  How are you feeling tonight, Dad?  Can I raise your bed or rearrange your pillows or bring you another blanket?  Can I help you brush your teeth?  Can you see the mountains from your window?  How can I know the truth about anything?  What will fill the emptiness?  Are you with me, God?

(Photo from Intermountain Health Care used pursuant to the fair use doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: The House Is Oddly Quiet

Imagine being strapped to another’s body and operating it from behind, climbing the stairs, lifting the body’s leg with yours to climb one step, then the other leg and another step, and more steps, the body sinking heavily into yours, a big body, a body too weak to move without help.  That is how my brother managed to convey Dad upstairs to bed.  We consulted, and we realized Dad needed hospital help, and we realized we could not safely convey him down the stairs and into his wheelchair and into the car, and we called for an ambulance.  Such sudden profound weakness: Dad could not move.  “I don’t understand it,” he bemoaned.  “I could do this two days ago.  Now I am so totally and absolutely weak and wasted.”  We had taken Mom and Dad to the Temple Quarry Trail in their wheelchairs.  Dad had not wanted to go—he felt too tired.  But we insisted he come, for his face to soak in some sun, for the fresh air to move around him and fill his lungs, to see the green of wild cherry and mountain maple and gambel oak—Mom brought home a pretty hatted acorn—and boxelder trees, to hear the river spilling noisily over quartz monzonite boulders.  To see Gabe gazelling down the trail with a four-year-old’s ebullient life dance.  But then the stairs, and the ambulance, and the utterly profound weakness.  “Common infections can present with profound weakness and disorientation in older patients,” the doctor explained.  Dad is now too weak to talk, too weak to chew his turkey cream cheese cranberry sandwich which sits drying on a plate, too weak to reach for his diet coke, staring through the 8th floor window at his beloved Wasatch mountains towering over the valley.  A last look before leaving his room for the evening: Dad is sleeping exhaustedly, his face glowing with diffuse light from the lamp above his bed, and he seems to lightly inhabit two worlds at once.  We are keeping up our spirits up at home, Mom and siblings and me.  We have experienced precarious near-collapses and kind ambulance EMTs and the ever-dragging emergency room and tests and scans and the making of plans one hour at a time.  We are weary.  And something feels different in the house.  Dad’s floor lamps do not burn until 3:00 a.m. with his reading.  His New Balance shoes sit empty by his chair.  Mom looks over the railing in the middle of night, like she does every night, to check on her beloved, to see him sleeping or reading and happy, but the chair is empty and dark.  The house seems oddly quiet, with someone missing.  And we pray for him to come home.

The Gambel Oak acorn Mom brought home from the Temple Quarry Trail.

Courage at Twilight: Banana Pancakes

“Could this really be the end?” Dad wondered aloud to me.  He could not even pivot on his feet to point-and-fall into his chair, and his legs trembled on the verge of collapse.  His sudden decline accompanied his cold—he tested negative twice for Covid antigens.  Yesterday was Wednesday, my long City-Council-meeting work day, and when I walked through the door at 10:30 p.m., Mom sighed with a drawn look, “I’m glad you’re home.  Your dad had quite an adventure today!”  Dad’s adventure was not watching hummingbirds on his back patio with Lone Mountain in the background, but a runaway walker crashing into the fireplace brickwork and Mom calling neighbor Brad to pick Dad up off the floor, which took several attempts.  He could not rise from his newly-elevated recliner, even as I strapped the new sling around his torso and pulled hard on the handles.  He could not walk to the stairs, but sat is his walker shuffling his feet as I nudged him forward.  He could not, of course, ascend the stairs, and his arms and legs trembled and shook as I pulled up on the sling with all my strength on each step.  (The quote for the stair lift was $14,000, which means we will not be purchasing the stair lift.)  He could not get into bed until I lugged his legs up and in.  He could not cross the bathroom after his shower this morning, when I wrapped him in a towel, turned him, and pointed him in a controlled fall onto the walker seat.  Mom murmured “I can’t do this” several times, foreseeing what she would face when I was at work, and she is right: she cannot do it.  I listened all night for panting groans and shuffling feet, and darted to his room at 5:00 a.m. when he was part way back to bed, about to collapse, and I grabbed him and dropped him on the mattress and hoisted his heavy lame legs into bed.  So, is this really the end?  I do not think so.  But the end grows forebodingly closer, and I feel like I am staring down the long dark rifle barrel of inevitable imminence.  While Mom helped him dress, I cooked up my daughter Laura’s “Foolproof Pancakes” with a twist of mashed baby red bananas and half whole wheat—and with bacon on the side, because why not?  And Dad enjoyed his banana pancakes and bacon.  And Mom enjoyed her banana pancakes and bacon.   Me, too.

The Sling.

Courage at Twilight: Red Ink

When Harvey turned 80, I gave him an antique workman’s lunch box, with oil rubbed into the rust—he adores antiques, and has a knack for turning junk into treasure. In the lunch box I included a homemade card with flower petals and leaves, and on the cardstock insert I wrote in my best longhand a celebratory message to my dear friend, Harvey, the hero of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and a one-time tanner and rendezvous mountain man who wears quietly the name Many Feathers bestowed by Goshute and Navajo chiefs.  A therapist once told me that emotional writing should be done longhand, accessing distinct brain quadrants than when typing, so I write in careful cursive my personal messages and in my journal.  In solidarity with my son, Brian, I purchased from Noodlers Inc. a whorled resin fountain pen named Ahab for its whale-shaped clip, and filled its cartridge with a blend of ink called Black Australian Rose.  But the mix was off in my ink batch, more of a cherry red than a red-and-black.  But I had bought it, so I was going to use it, and began signing official city documents in bright red ink.  “Signed in blood,” I joked rather lamely, a tad embarrassed for the bright resemblance.  The ink even bled through the cheap copy paper.  I thought to darken the red with a few drops of Moon Dust, and now the ink really does look like fresh blood instead of cherry juice, though I am enjoying signing in blood.  My message to Harvey in his 85th birthday card was written in this ink-blood.  When I came home from work on his birthday, I found a box from him on my desk.  Before opening it, Mom wanted to show me the five new grab bars in the bathrooms, the most important of which was just inside the master shower door, there anchored securely now to help Dad step over the deep tiled lip of the shower.  He acknowledged that shower ingress and egress had been precarious with him grasping the soap dish for lack of a bar.  Now the simple act of showering will be far safer and more enjoyable.  And with a doctor’s order we paid no sales tax.  Mom was happy with the installer, Austin, who was so careful and thorough and kind, and upon inspection I, too, was satisfied.  Retrieving Harvey’s box—how characteristic of the diminutive man to send me a gift on his birthday—I found inside his antique lunch box, for he had moved out after losing his third wife, and had no room for antiques in the bedroom of his daughter’s house, and did not how long he would be around anyway, and knew I would appreciate it more than anyone else in the world.

(Pictured above: Harvey on his 80th birthday with the antique lunch box.)

The antique lunch box.

 

My Ahab fountain pen resting on a pen bed made by Brian.  See Brian’s YouTube channel “Down the Breather Hole” for fun fountain pen photos and videos.

 

Black Australian Roses “blood” ink handwriting sample.

 

The new grab bars are in!

Courage at Twilight: Self-Care

“So what does the caregiver do for self-care,” Kristine asked me, and I was stumped. All my possible answers sounded stupid.  Watch episodes of Disney’s Obi-Wan and Marvel’s What If.  Write posts for this platform.  Bake bread and cakes and cookies (and eating them).  Check Facebook and WordPress and Instagram and Gmail.  But her question is one that begged to be asked, and one I would do well to search carefully for answers.  I know I have several built-in barometers that warn me of high-pressure storm systems in the forecast, of high winds and flash floods and booming lightning and sinkholes.  The first is the profanity barometer.  Not that I am a profane or indecent person, and not that I cuss at people or the world or God.  Rather, I have discovered a direct correlation between by levels of emotional distress and my swearing under my breath at any little inconvenience, like dropping a paper clip at work or spilling on my favorite shirt.  The second is the compulsive eating barometer.  I doubt that one ever conquers hunger, but I have made real inroads: I lost 40 pounds through fasting, portion control, soda abstinence, and sweet avoidance.  I have discovered a direct correlation between levels of emotional distress and my compulsive eating, usually of chocolate covered almonds or Jordan almonds or lemon yogurt almost (what is it with almonds?)—but muffins and cookies and breads and other sweets will do in a pinch.  But sometimes fasting seems like a sugar-free marathon.  I feel disgusted with myself for such a lack of discipline and for having put back on ten of the old pounds.  Much of my distress comes from the perpetual pressures of caregiving, some from adding long work days to caregiving, some from adding a long commute to long work days.  And, no doubt, significant distress has come from having signed up for that dating app and corresponding with several women at once and the labor of making new friends and the terror of dating and that most exhausting of questions What next?  “So how does Roger care for Roger?” she asked.  Well, I am not sure, but I am writing this entry (does that count?), and I will arise at 6:00 a.m. to ride the stationary bike and read N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus and leave for work without eating and listen to the birthing pains of the Civil Rights movement and respond to other people’s emergencies all day and drive home at rush hour and ask Mom and Dad about their day and cook another dinner and wash the dishes and search for hidden chocolate covered almonds and watch another episode of What If? and get to bed too late only to start it all over again tomorrow.  Whatever.  In any event, I feel too tired to worry about self-care tonight.

(Photo is of cherry chocolate chip bread baked yesterday.)

Courage at Twilight: Broken

The dishwasher door springs both broke and the heavy door slammed down if not snapped securely shut, and with the anchor broken off the washer tipped forward and the dish-laden trays rolled out with a jarring clang. Brian helped me pull the machine out and install the new springs and pulley cords.  Tracy helped fashion homemade counter-anchors from common elbow brackets—and they worked!  On advice from the Bosch store, I had bought an expensive new dishwasher base, but was relieved to find the old base had a built-in slot for the new springs, and I was spared the chore of disassembling the washer and the exasperation of not being able to see in my mind how to reassemble the parts back into the whole (an annoying life-long intellectual weakness).  As it was, You Tube was indispensable, even to replace the springs.  I felt thrilled and relieved we had succeeded in fixing the dishwasher, and thanked my Lord the repair was simpler than anticipated.  I had not realized the stress and pressure I was putting on myself to get the machine fixed.  But then Brian found a pool of water under the kitchen sink, dripping from a filter cartridge seal, dripping down a hole into the cavity above the finished basement, and we could not find the filter wrench.  The bowl I placed under the filter filled overnight and spilled again into the dark void in the floor.  Following with my eyes the various colored hoses (blue, yellow, red, black, and white), I discerned how to turn off the water to the filter and close the bladder tank valve—and the drip stopped, just in time to leave for church.  Staggering with his cane, Dad wondered if today would be his last day walking to our habitual pew near the front.  “My legs just won’t work.  I’m getting worse.”  Post-polio sets in like a heavy dense discouraging fog that never blows or burns off but grows only heavier and denser and more oppressive, and one’s feet become increasingly thick and leaden and mired in an energy-sapping sink.  He made it to and from church, today, with help under each arm.  Terry asked me how Dad was doing, not needing my response to see the truth, and knowing my unspoken thoughts as he offered, “I have a good wheelchair.  I’ll dust it off and bring it over.”  I thanked him, and suggested I would come get it so I could sneak it into the house unseen.  Dad thinks he likely will skip the walker and go straight from the cane to the wheelchair.  After church and rice casserole and a nap, Mom showed me how the DVD player would not respond to the remote or to direct button pushing—it had swallowed the DVD and refused to give it back.  She pried the tray open with a serrated Cutco knife, and the tray stuck stubbornly out, appearing much like a dead animal with its tongue lolling.  Remembering the no-longer-used basement entertainment equipment, I brought up the old combination VCR/DVD player, made before HDMI technology, and plugged the red, white, and yellow audio/video cords into the TV.  With new batteries in the remote, the old machine came to life, functioning correctly and obeying Mom’s commanding button bushes.  She was so pleased she decided the moment was right for an episode of NCIS, which she learned was also a favorite of Gabe’s other great-grandparents, the Scotts.  The word “surprised” describes my reaction to having fixed three broken appliance problems in two days—generally I am not very handy.  I only wish I could fix the only real problem of these four: Dad’s crumbling legs and feet and disintegrating mobility.  The best I may be able to do is to push his chair down the aisle at church to sit near our customary pew, on the front row, where space was left for a wheelchair.

Courage at Twilight: Falling on Friday

It is a Friday night, and I am home alone in my upstairs office, reading, and writing, and I am not out with friends and I am not being entertained by superheroes. Every hour upon the half, I roll out and fold over a butter and bread-dough laminate—24 layers—for tomorrow’s chocolate croissants, and between rolling I am reading the Selected Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln.  I bought a copy for myself after reading another Lincoln biography, but Dad was so excited to dive into the book, and cannot read without a yellow highlighter (like I cannot read without a yellow highlighter) that I gave him my copy and bought a second for myself.  Already I have learned the words “vulpine” and “hagiography” and learned that Mr. Lincoln was not merely the stoic statue of still photographs, but faceted and furious and considerate and cutting and desperately sad and brutally patient, and witty, and he loved to tell stories, for stories will tell the truth faster and longer-lasting than the truth itself.  Dad told Lincoln stories at the dinner table, but he looked very tired; he had seemed tired all day.  When I first saw him this morning, and asked him “How are you today, Dad?” he responded with his characteristic “Marvelously well, thank you!”  But later he confessed to feeling “very poorly” and tired and weak.  When I finished my work day, he said he would go outside to blow the rock wall clean of pine needles and leaves and dirt.  And I began mixing my dough.  I kneaded and listened, tense, and soon heard a desperate bellowing from the back yard and rushed out the door to see Dad, on his hands and knees, sinking to splay on the concrete, shaking with vain exertions to move.  I managed to lift him back up onto his knees, and in a huge joint effort he inched up the arms of a patio chair high enough for me to kick another chair behind him, where he sat, trembling and pale.  “I fell,” he observed flatly.  Despite his state, he insisted on mounting the mower and cleaning up the grass.  Between bites of chicken and broccoli, he told us, “I think my legs just collapsed.”  Feeling traumatized, I blurted, “We need to have a conversation.  You cannot work in the yard if you are feeling weak and I’m not here.  If you fall when I’m not here, you’re not getting back up, and it will be an ambulance and a hospital and who knows what!”  Inside my head, I screamed, You’re not allowed to be stubborn!  To be stubborn is to die!  I had felt terror at finding him helpless on the patio concrete, at my not being strong enough to muscle his bulk off the ground, of his visible deterioration week to week, of knowing this is a one-way track with a finish line I don’t want to cross.  Seeing that my fury came from my fear, I could forgive myself and forgive him and calm myself into a nice family dinner.  It is a Friday night, and Dad is watching the Jazz game from his recliner, and I am reading and writing and rolling out my croissant dough, and after the rolls bake tomorrow, Dad and I will go outside together with rakes and shovels to do a little yardwork before dinner.

(Dad’s labors in the yard beneath his beloved mountains.)

Courage at Twilight: Getting the Socks Started

Every day at noon, Dad’s breakfast hour, he calls “Lucille!” for her to help him start his socks.  He can no longer reach his toes to start pulling on his socks.  When Mom was away one day, he called for with, “Hey, Rogie, will you help me get my socks started?  You mom’s not here.”  I scrunched the left sock up and covered his toes.  “I can get it from there,” letting me do only what he absolutely could not do for himself.  Next the right foot.  I have offered to help at other times—chagrined, he responds that he wants Mom do help him.  I understand.

(Image by bernswaelz from Pixabay.)

Courage at Twilight: Almonds by the Pound

I am not doing well.  Of course, that sentence is so vague as to mean nothing at all.  Let me see if I can rephrase.  I am feeling acute prolonged distress on account of continuous daily events like watching my father exert all his earthly energies merely to rise from a chair and stumble on the verge of forward falling with each step as he crosses a room and knowing that one fall with a blow to the head or a broken leg or hip would take him from his home and land him in a hospital or assisted living whence he might not return and knowing the finances and the absence of long-term care insurance and that the needs for the little that is left, the needs, the needs, come constantly and persistently and if Mom and Dad are long-term hurt or long-term sick and cannot stay home the bills would take their home from them for we likely would have to sell the home, the home, and then where would our family be? and I can’t even think or ask When will this end? because the only end is a sad and tragic end which I abhor and eschew and don’t ever want ever and so we endure together and we make the best of things which often is pretty excellent though always under pall.  I know I am not doing very well because I am writing in hysterical stream-of-consciousness and I swear frequently under my breath and I am consuming large quantities of lemon-yogurt-covered almonds and milk-chocolate-covered almonds and colorful crunchy Jordan almonds and feel a general awfulness inside and out and the frequent need to sit in a dark quiet room in my recliner under a soft fleece throw.

 

(Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay.)

Courage at Twilight: Fig and Date Bread

Burt Brothers called to tell us what the repair would cost. We had worried the cost would be higher.  When I poured the windshield wiper fluid in the reservoir the afternoon before, the fluid gushed out onto the driveway.  I struggled to remove the heavy battery so I could see the reservoir and its tubing, and found both tubes (to front and rear wipers) broken in the same place.  I left small pieces of my finger behind reinstalling the battery.  The service project the next morning had caught my eye on Facebook, on the page I follow about the Jordan River, where I kayak and cycle.  But the event appeared to not catch many other eyes, for only two volunteers came, plus the Jordan River Commission Executive Director, who dispensed gloves, trash bags, and garbage pincers.  Our goal was to bag all the garbage at the river-side park before the wind blew it into the river.  I have kayaked around huge floating masses of flotsam on the river, some growing their own vegetation.  The Director thanked me for coming, dispensed some tips about good kayak launches for avoiding dams and portages, and handed me trail mix and fruit snacks.  Returning home, Mom and Dad and I drove two cars to drop off Dad’s faithful Suburban at the garage to repair the tubes, and we continued on in Mom’s trusty Legacy to the grocery store for the weekly shopping.  I felt happy as we arrived at Smith’s, but left the store an anxiety-ridden wreck.  I lost Dad in the store—he was not sitting at the deli where I usually find him when I have finished shopping.  I found him with Mom funneling into Luana’s check-out line—she is their favorite checker, and she always orders me to “take good care of them.”  “I’ll do my best,” I always promise.  Dad began trembling behind his cart—“I’m not going to make it, Rog,” he said.  “I need to sit down—now.”  Luana sent a bagger running for a chair he could not find, while another bagger drove up with a motorized cart onto which Dad collapsed.  “Nelson,” Luana chided (partly on my behalf, since she could get away with it), “the next time you come, you either will use this motorized cart, or you will not come at all!”  Dad nodded and smiled sheepishly, relieved just to be sitting.  He took to the cart naturally, motoring easily to the car.  Unloading the week’s groceries, Burt Brothers called to say Dad’s car was already fixed.  With Dad sitting in his recliner eating his onion and Swiss on multi-grain bread, Mom and I raced off to retrieve the faithful Suburban, good as new, and for a fair price, before the store closed at 5:00.  Mom crowed that she and I were the heroes of the day for retrieving the repaired Suburban.  We celebrated with pizza, salad, and Paul Hollywood’s beautiful fig and date bread.

Courage at Twilight: Mobility Strategy

I sat down with Mom and Dad recently, and asked Dad if we could discuss a plan to preserve his mobility for as long as possible. Far from defensive, he seemed grateful for the discussion: he and Mom know that him losing his mobility will dramatically affect quality of life for them both.  After our discussion, I typed and printed our Mobility Strategy, in big blaring pitch, and stuck it to the refrigerator with a magnet.  A day in the hospital, the Christmas and New Year holidays, and family celebrations interrupted some elements of the new routine, like going to the gym.  Other elements we started immediately.  I do not badger Dad about drinking water, for example, but every time I pass his chair, I hand him a bottle of cold water.  My message is clear.  And, to be fair, I hold my own water bottle even as I hand him his.  (Water intake can reduce edema.)  Here is our Mobility Strategy.  I will let you know how it goes.

  1. Stationary Bike. Ride the bike 6 days a week, for 30 minutes each ride.
  2. Gym. Go to the gym 2 days a week, weather permitting.
  3. Leg Compressors. Use the pumping leg compressors when reading at night.
  4. Walker. Use the blue walker between family room, kitchen, and dining room, as needed.
  5. Cane. Keep the “walking stick” handy for short treks in the house or to the car.
  6. Compression Socks. Order.  Wear.
  7. Elevate. When sitting, keep legs elevated.
  8. WATER. Keep several water bottles cold in the fridge.  Sip all day.

(Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Pantene 2-in-1

Dad lamented that his scalp hurt, and asked Mom and me to find a better shampoo that would be soothing to his head.  Back in the day, when I had hair, I liked Pantene 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.  It softened and smoothed my hair and skin.  So, Mom and I brought home a bottle from the grocery store for Dad to try.  Within a few days, he beamed at how much he liked the new shampoo, remarking that his scalp no longer burned or stung.  (I suspect any shampoo-conditioner combo would have worked.)  The following week, at the grocery store, Mom told me to put five bottles in the shopping cart.  Only two sat on the shelf.  But now we know what works, and will add it routinely to the shopping list.

Courage at Twilight: Grocery Shopping, A Sequel

I feel so anxious in the grocery store with Mom and Dad.  In the produce section, I assess the fruits and vegetables with one eye even as I monitor Dad’s quickly waning strength with the other, tense and ready to catch him if he slumps.  While Dad waits exhausted and uncomfortable at a deli table, I rush from aisle to aisle scratching items off the shopping list.  I cannot suggest he stay home, and should not.  This is his life, and he enjoys grocery shopping.  If he wants to come with me, he should come.  It is healthy for him to get out of the house, to see the abundant beautiful produce, to get excited about beer-battered cod and grilled bratwurst and baking salmon on Sunday.  But he pays a steep price over and above the grocery bill.  “I’m done, Rog,” he whispered as we stood in the check-out lane.  “I hope I can make it to the car.”  Back at home, I carry eight plastic shopping bags in each hand, thanks to the handles Connor made on his 3D printer.  Mom and I put the groceries away, and stuff the plastic grocery sacks into a larger bag to be recycled.  Wiped out and grateful, they sink into their recliners with their books and newspapers—or the TV remote—and their snacks and drinks.  This is a perfect time for me again to urge Dad, captive to fatigue and comfort, to hydrate.

 

(Grocery bag carriers printed by my son-in-law, Connor.)

Courage at Twilight: Railings and Stairs

My siblings and I had begun to notice how ascending the stairs had grown more difficult for Mom and Dad.  They huffed and wheezed and groaned.  A wear pattern emerged on the wall where hands had sought some added traction and stability.  My sister Sarah arranged for a company to install a railing on the wall side of the stairs, at equal height with the wood banister.  Now it is much easier for them to push and pull their way up, using all four limbs, and to lean forward as they descend, easing the arthritis pains in their knees.  I will not lie: I use the railing, too.

Courage at Twilight: The Hated Walker

Dad loathes his walker. His walker is a royal blue, heavy-duty model, quite nice looking, I think.  I kept it for weeks in the back of the faithful Suburban, then moved it to a corner of the garage, and finally retired it to the basement.  Dad simply refuses to use it, and scowls at even a hint of a suggestion that he ought to use it.  Hatred is not too strong a word for his feelings for that walker.  On the other hand, Dad loves his garden tools, of which he has dozens of all shapes and varieties.  I have tried to cast his walker as simply another tool for him to use for specific tasks, when only that tool will do.  He was not persuaded.  And I have not pressed the point.  I think he feels embarrassed that even the simple act of walking is almost too hard for him, when he once ran marathons (yes, the 26.2-mile kind, 13 of them).  He did remark to me recently, “I know a wheelchair is in my not-too-distant future, Rog.”  I thought admitting that eventuality was remarkably brave of him.  I hope before then the dreaded walker will become his fast and long-term friend.

Courage at Twilight: Lasagna for Dinner

Dad told me he would cook dinner tonight.  We would have lasagna with meat sauce, plus steamed vegetables.  I told him that sounded wonderful.  When I arrived home from work, he took the lasagna out of the box and slid it frozen into the hot oven.  An hour later he emptied a bag of frozen lima beans into a pan, and shucked fresh sweet corn on the cob.  Stouffer’s makes such yummy lasagna—thank goodness for the occasional frozen dinner.  Stuffed and satisfied, I thanked Dad for making dinner.

Courage at Twilight: Mother’s Orders

Unlike Dad, Mom seems pleased with a little pampering. She does not feel threatened by being helped.  During her recent illness, she was not reluctant to tell me what she wanted and needed.  And I enjoyed doing it.  “Would you get the mail from the mailbox?”  “Will you dish up my dinner? Do you mind bringing it to me in my chair?”  “I’ll have mango juice, please.”  “Thank you, sweetie—I’m just bossing you around, aren’t I?”  I felt happy to be of good utility.  And she was sweet and grateful.  But now that she is recovering, she treks to the mailbox for the mail and dumps the recyclables into the green container, with no need of assistance from me.

Courage at Twilight: Don’t Hover

“I don’t want you to pamper me!” Dad barked.  I thought I was just being courteous, delivering his dinner, carting off his dirty dishes.  “I can do it myself.”  Watching him do it himself is painful for me because it is painful for him.  The effort to do the simplest things is enormous and exhausting.  But I respect his desire to not want paternalistic pampering.  I respect that he does not want to feel old and feeble, that he does want to feel strong and capable, despite knowing that “I’m going downhill fast, Rog.”  My opportunity is to affirm him discreetly, to help him with subtlety, to step quietly in without implying my help is needed.  So, when Dad is ready for seconds, I get up from the dinner table for an ice cube or the salt, and say with nonchalance, “I’m already up, so can I bring you something?”

Courage at Twilight: Stair Lift

I spent the morning researching stair lifts, also known as chair lifts, the makes and models, the Acorns and Brunos, leasing verses purchasing, wondering if it were time to make that move. I hear Dad grunting on every step, and Mom wheezing at reaching the top.  Sitting with them in their bedroom, I shared my research, and asked them what they thought about the idea, and the timing.  Dad acknowledged that climbing the stairs is hard for him to do, but he can do it.  He worries that once he stops doing a hard thing, he will lose the ability ever to do that hard thing again.  He thinks it best to keep on exerting, fighting even, doing everything he can to be strong and capable.  Mom and Dad had been going to the rec center six days a week before Covid shut down the nation’s gyms.  They would make a circuit through the many machines, strengthening back and arms and legs and heart.  He wants to go back, because his muscles have become soft.  He knows he will be starting over again.  I, too, seem to be always starting over after some injury or event (like moving) has knocked me out of my exercise routine.  I used to become discouraged about always starting over, but now try to be grateful I have the opportunity to start over, building on yesterday’s strength, and to keep working at life’s challenges, believing that every effort at living ultimately is strengthening and redeeming.  So, Mom and Dad said no to the stair lift, for now.  Dad wants to keep working as hard as he can.  He is not being stubborn about the stair lift, or walking, or working in his yard to the point of collapse (literally, like today, when he sank to the grass on shaking legs that just would not hold him up anymore, and crawled to the brick mailbox to claw his way back to his feet, while I stood inside obliviously baking a guava cream cheese tart, and how did no one driving by see him lying on the grass?).  No, not stubbornness.  Instead, he is fighting for his independence and his dignity and his strength, fighting for his life.  That example I can absolutely respect and emulate.

Courage at Twilight: Pillboxes

Mom keeps a list of Dad’s prescription medications in large-sharpie print on a white posterboard taped to a cupboard.  And underneath are the pillboxes, one for morning and one for night.  With his late-night reading, Dad often doesn’t take his a.m. medications until the p.m.  “Did you take your pills, Nelson?” Mom badgers from her recliner, knowing she has to badger because he forgets and procrastinates.  When he sheepishly shakes his head “no” she fires back, “You have to take your pills!”  Bad things can happen when the pills remain in the pillbox.  But eventually all the day’s pills get swallowed.  What a great little invention the pillbox is.  I even use one so the day’s medicines and vitamins and supplements are all ready to bottoms up.  A pillbox is especially handy when traveling, so I do not have to take a bag full of bottles, although I have learned the hard way to strap the box closed with rubber bands.  Come Sunday evening, Mom and I are filling Dad’s and my respective pillboxes.  You have to take your pills!

Courage at Twilight: The Gaping Jaws of Hell (or That Damned Window Well)

Dad rode off on his mower as I began my gut-tightening planks.  (Thank you, planks.)  At rep 5, I heard a muffled clang and noticed the lawn mower engine was not running.  Outside the window sat the mower without its rider.  I knew instantly what had happened.  Bounding out the back door, I found Dad on the ground, one leg and half his pelvis in the six-foot-deep window well, where the welded-rebar cover had collapsed from under him.  He could not move, despite body-shaking effort.  All he could clutch was bark chips, which had shredded his forearms.  This notorious window had previously swallowed my sister Sarah and her three-year-old son Gabe (see my story Angel Gabriel).   An extrication procedure quickly became apparent.  1) Grab sweat pants behind hamstring and pull, lifting leg and shifting pelvis out of window well.  2) Grab sweat pants behind hamstrings and haul straight legs into kneeling position. 3) Embrace back and chest, and hoist body to hands and knees.  4) Grip under armpits and pull to a standing position.  Thank God it worked.  The nearest seat was the lawn mower, which Dad shakily resumed, turning the ignition key.  “Do you promise me you are safe to ride?” I yelled above the roar, careful not to further bruise his already battered pride.  He nodded and sped off.  It occurred to me then: this story had a multitude of bad endings, and only one good ending.  Mom’s first fall taught me never to minimize a noise or an impression.  As a result of learning that lesson, I was at Dad’s side in seconds—but only because I was home early from work and was exercising in the only part of the house from which I could have heard the well cover collapse.  How grateful I felt for circumstances to have aligned in such a way to allow my presence and awareness.  I would never debase the occurrence with the words coincidence or luckMiracle will do nicely, thank you.

Courage at Twilight: Fim da Linha

What I’ve always known—cognitively—is beginning to sink deeply in—emotionally—with emphasis on the word “sink,” and pulling me down with it: I cannot fix this.  I do not have the power to heal the illness, to strengthen the tired muscles.  The canes and walkers and wheelchairs, the doctor visits and blood draws and MRIs, the heart monitors and blood pressure cuffs, the shakiness and fatigue, the “take your pills” and “drink more water” and the worry worry worry—they are all here to stay.  I am riding this streetcar with Mom and Dad to the fim da linha, the end of the line.  One day, the streetcar will come to a stop and Mom and Dad will get off, and I will wave good-bye.  And then the car will start again and turn some corner and carry me toward other stops.  Until then, my power is found in my weakness, my strength in my service.  All I can do is cook and clean and comfort, and listen, and love.  And this is enough.  In fact, this is the job.  The job is not to fix anything as we ride the streetcar together, but to be with them for the duration of the ride, and to make the ride as comfortable and peace-filled and happy as my siblings and I can.

Courage at Twilight: Hearing Aids

I have been shouting a lot lately.  Not because I am a brute or a bully or an offended narcissist, but because the hearing aid batteries seem to go dead every day.  Or the hearing aids are not being worn.  A person cannot wear hearing aids comfortably, of course, when mowing the lawn—such amplified sound would rattle their teeth and ruin what’s left of their hearing.  And there is the surgical mask, which, when removed, catches on the hearing aid and flings it across the church parking lot.  What an indignity to continually be shouted at, to have to ask “What?” and “Hmm?” all the time, to miss the happy songs of finches at sunset.

Courage at Twilight: Lawn Care

Dad keeps his lawn green and trimmed and mowed. The lawn gets nourished monthly with the correct kind of fertilizer, and enjoys a haircut twice a week.  Donning a straw hat against the sun and potential skin cancer, he drives his red riding mower, curving around the beds of bushes and flowers, happy to be in the saddle.  A neighbor commented, “Nelson, you are the most determined man I’ve ever seen in caring for a yard.”  One Friday night in spring, Dad asked me if I would fertilize the lawn first thing Saturday morning so that the coming snow would dissolve the fertilizer into the turf.  Come morning, however, the lawn was buried in four inches of heavy wet snow.  Not wanting Dad to be disappointed, I ventured to push the spreader anyway.  With two wheels on the “ground” the spreader merely pushed against the snow.  But with one wheel on the ground—the wheel geared to the spreader—and the other elevated, I made good progress.  It is often hard to see where one has fertilized because the spreader swath is three feet on either side, and I lose track of where I’ve been.  I did not have this problem now because the fertilizer sat on the surface of the snow.  Unfortunately, the grains of this particular fertilizer were yellow, and now Dad’s entire yard was covered with yellow snow.  Dad was astonished, having never seen fertilized snow.  He commented, “Roger—it looks like the whole lawn was trampled by peeing deer.”  Indeed, deer are frequent visitors, eating down spring’s lily shoots.  Just yesterday I watched a nearby mule deer doe watching Dad as he string trimmed.  Now, at summer’s end, the grass is green green.  Dad cut the grass again last night.  Now it’s my turn to do my job: take the push mower around the places where the riding mower can’t easily maneuver.  And empty the bags of cut grass.

Courage at Twilight: I Wasn’t There

I am wallowing in self-reproach.  Mom fell in the shower.  She does not remember falling.  She remembers only waking up on the floor, the water sprinkling down on her, the door flung open.  And I did not know.  And Dad did not know.  I asked her at breakfast about the scratch on the bridge of her nose, but she did not know where it came from.  As she sat in her Sunday dress, ready to go to church, Dad asked her how she felt.  “Not so good,” she said, seeming very tired.  I passed it off as a symptom of the sinus infection she is getting over.  She told me later about her slumping from her chair.  That morning I had awoken with a start when I thought I heard a bang.  I could hear water tinkling.  Remembering how the shower door clangs when it closes, I thought nothing more of it.  We went to church like normal, moving a little slower.  I cooked all afternoon to give Mom and Dad a nice Sunday dinner: tilapia poached in white wine with green onions, sauced with creamy mushroom-clam sauce.  For dessert I made crepes stuffed with vanilla-cream sauced apples.  It all tasted divine.  But all I could think about as I cooked and ate and washed dishes was not being there when Mom needed me.  I was there, in the same house, on the same floor, in the room next door, with Mom lying unconscious on the shower floor, being drizzled with warm water.  But I was not there for her.  I could have revived her, helped her up, given her care and attention.  But I was not there.  All this fancy French food and the effort it took and the palatable pleasure it brought meant nothing.  What would have meant something was following through on the waking start and investigating assertively and helping my mother when she needed me.  The bruise on her cheek bone is starting to show.

Courage at Twilight: The Little Chores

I have asked Mom and Dad to save up for me the little chores they would like me to do when I come home from work.  I’m no handyman, but I can do the little things: change a furnace filter, snap in a new smoke alarm battery, carry toilet paper to the basement bathroom, heft the water softener salt into the tank, unclog the corner rain gutter, snip out the old dog wire, tighten a door knob, pull the empty garbage cans back from the curb.  These little chores give me pleasure, not only because they are quick and easy, and not only because I am capable of doing them, but also because Mom and Dad appreciate me for doing these little chores: my doing them makes their lives just that much easier.

Courage at Twilight: French Cooking

One of my purposes is to make mealtime easy, healthy, and pleasant for Mom and Dad, by cooking dinner for them. For two years I have enjoyed cooking for them occasionally on a weekend.  Now it can be every day, if wanted.  It brings me pleasure to bring them pleasure.  I have always wanted to learn to speak French and cook French.  I study French lessons on Duo Lingo once or twice a week—I may become competent in ten years so.  And after watching Julie & Julia in 2020, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  This week we enjoyed (1) quiche in a buttery shell with green onions, mushrooms, spinach, and ham, (2) salmon soufflé, (3) crêpes with Splenda-sweetened fresh fruit and almond whipping cream (for my son Caleb’s 22nd birthday “cake”), (4) carrots and parsnips glazed in a buttery sweet sauce, and (5) cream of mushroom soup, all from Julia’s book.  I have fun cooking delicious, appealing food, and we all enjoy consuming it.  The recipes were hard at first, but have become second nature with repetition.  Dad sent me an email today, “I will be cooking dinner tonight.”  These six words implied so much: (a) I can cook, too; (b) I want to cook, too; (c) I love to cook, too; (d) I can do things; (e) I want to share the load; (f) thank you for your cooking; (g) I want to take a turn; (h) I want to do something nice for you like you do for us; and, (i) isn’t it wonderful how people take raw ingredients and make such creative, delicious dishes?  So, tonight he cooked delicious “saucy pork burrito rice bowls” with ingredients and recipe provided by Hello Fresh.  When I asked if I could be his sous chef, he said sure.  As the three of us sat at the table with our fragrant rice bowls, Dad remarked, “We made this, together, didn’t we Rog!”  We did.    And it was very tasty.

Courage at Twilight: Food Storage

My church encourages its members to have on hand one year’s supply of food in case of emergency.  The Covid-19 pandemic affirmed that food storage isn’t a fool’s errand.  After being counseled my whole life, and after six months of Covid, I finally started acquiring food storage.  Not just staples, but things I would enjoy and that would be good for me.  Canned: refried beans; sweet potatoes; mackerel; sweet corn; green beans; mandarin oranges; spaghetti sauce; diced tomatoes; black beans.  Baking: flour; sugar; brown sugar; baking powder; corn meal; cassava flour; vegetable shortening; a gallon of vegetable oil; a gallon of corn syrup.  Spices: garlic; onion; cinnamon.  Bouillon cubes for chicken and beef broth.  Pasta: angel hair (my favorite).  Bottled water.  Powdered milk.  A stove in a can.  Two hundred tea candles and pint-jar lanterns.  I hope I don’t have to find out how long these stores, combined with their own, would last Mom, Dad, and me.  But I have them just in case, in boxes, on shelves in Mom’s basement cold storage room.

Courage at Twilight: Packing the Boxes

I packed 30 boxes in one night.  Packing boxes is such an odd life experience.  Into each box I put my books, my genealogical records, my decorations, my journals.  I seem to have more books and binders than any other type of possession.  I cannot bear to part with the good books I have read, so into the boxes they go, with the label “Books: Read.”  My latest favorites: The Plover by Brian Doyle, about a scarred sailor on a small sailboat who takes on several characters and through them heals his wounds; and, The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, about the pervasive systematic racist policies of U.S. Government agencies that caused African Americans to suffer gross inequities in housing availability and affordability, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, adequate incomes, quality schools, clean environments, loan and mortgage equity, wealth generation, and military benefits.  Each book has walked me in the shoes of great men and women, has taken me to new realms of science, has filled me with joy and sadness and that sick feeling that comes from reading about human cruelty.  And when my bookshelves are empty and the boxes are full, I feel empty and bereft, as if my compartmentalized personality has been divided into boxes with labels, packed away to be loaded onto a truck and driven to my knew home and stacked in a corner of the basement until this new chapter, of which I have barely turned the first page, has ended (and I hope it is a long chapter).  Then, I will carry the boxes again, still unopened, to some other domicile, where they will be unpacked and their contents organized on shelves and tables until my children come to care for me.

Courage at Twilight: Building Boxes

I didn’t go to Wal-Mart for boxes.  I went there for snacks, including cheddar fish crackers, for a day trip to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with Hannah at Tuacahn.  But there was the cheerful Pepperidge Farms lady collapsing boxes by the dozen, happy to give them to me when I asked.  Packing is always a daunting task, and it starts with building boxes.  With Ken Burns’ 20-hour Jazz playing b-bop and avant-garde, I started folding and taping flaps, and tossing the boxes in a heap.  I feel so sad for genius Charlie Parker, playing sax music from heaven while drugs dragged him down to a living hell, with death at 34.  At DVD’s end, the living room was a heap of empty cracker boxes, about to be filled with books I may never read but yet carry around by the decade.  My life feels about to be reduced to a stack of heavy boxes marked “books.”  But mine is a good life: I will have a safe, loving place to live with, and care for, my generous parents.  Safe places—that is what we should be building.  I guess it starts with building boxes.  Forty down; so many to go.

Courage at Twilight: Second Guesses

With the plan in place, and the miracles having come about, the time to get to work had arrived.  Boxing.  Cleaning.  Moving.  Adjusting.  Saying good-byes.  And with that work came the second guessing.  What was I thinking to invite this change?  I am moving from my home, where I am comfortable and safe.  I will be lengthening my commute from 3 miles to 53, from ten minutes to an hour, each way.  I will be working day and night, six days a week.  I will be living in someone else’s space.  I will be giving up my solitary time for reading, writing, and film.  Did I do the right thing?  And yet, I know with a conviction, as powerful as any I ever received before, that this is the right thing to do.  This is missionary work, and I have been called to this mission.  I am holding on to that sure knowledge as I enter into a time of transition, a time of belonging neither in the old place nor in the new.  I am holding onto that conviction and moving forward with faith, however weak.

Courage at Twilight: Miracle #2 (My Work)

I work as a municipal attorney for a small Utah town, advising the elected Mayor and City Council, the Planning Commission, and City department heads.  This has been my work for 28 years.  I rarely plan my days, which unfold in a never-ending series of problems and challenges, demands and crises.  (I disfavor the word “crisis,” which takes a mere situation and elevates it to a crisis, with all the increased stress of a crisis, instead of making the same situation simply something to solve.)  Working 50 hours a week in Tooele, plus ten hours of commuting, would hardly be conducive to fulfilling my primary purpose to care for my parents.  For the plan to work, I would need permission to work a flexible, non-traditional schedule.  Again, I solicited family prayers.  I presented my plan and my proposed schedule to my boss, the Mayor.  She enthusiastically approved, and even thanked me for choosing to help my parents at this point in their lives.  I will work four partial days a week in Tooele, plus remote hours from home on those days, plus working remotely from home on Fridays, and when needed on Saturdays.  I will still attend City Council meetings on Wednesday nights—after a career of some 5,000 Wednesday-night meetings, I see my week as Wednesday to Tuesday instead of Sunday to Saturday.  Anyway, this schedule, hopefully, will allow me both to work full-time and to be home enough to make a difference for Mom and Dad.  To my eye, this is another miracle.  If the schedule itself is not, the kindness certainly is.

Courage at Twilight: Superb Siblings

#4.  Despite my conviction of needing to help Mom and Dad, I had to make sure my siblings agreed with the plan.  I wrote to my four sisters and only brother to express my concerns for Mom’s and Dad’s health and safety (concerns they all shared), and to seek their blessing for me to move in.  As a career municipal attorney, I have seen too many instances of children and grandchildren moving in with their parents and grandparents, manipulating them, taking advantage of them, and taking their money and property.  Though my siblings know I am not such a person, still I felt it necessary to have their consent for me to assume such a trusted position with their parents.  All five wrote back to me with love and gratitude and support.  Megan wrote, “I support you 110%.”  Carolyn wrote, “We are behind you.”  Sarah, Jeanette, and Steven also gave their enthusiastic support.  I knew that with their love and trust, perhaps I could do this.  Their blessing in hand, now it was time to consult with Mom and Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Available

#3.  The need is now.  I am pondering the circumstances of my availability to leave my own home and to live with my parents in theirs.  I find myself divorced and living alone.  My seven children are mostly raised, with the youngest learning to drive.  Five years have been sufficient to transition out of the trauma of exile and isolation.  In those years I focused on healing, and too much, perhaps, on my own life, my little knick knacks, my art on the walls, my books, my mountain bike, my blog, my baking, my time, my my my . . . .  It is time, perhaps, to look more outward, more toward the welfare of someone other than myself.  And it is time for me to be available to do what I can do.  My siblings are dedicated, loving persons, and could do so much better at caregiving than me.  They already do so much.  But they are not available to do some of what requires doing.  I am available.  So, the privilege and the responsibility are mine, and I cheerfully accept.

Courage at Twilight: Evil Law Mower

#2.  I had planned to move in with Mom and Dad, if need be, in about a year, after my lease expired.  But the evil lawn mower incident convinced me to move immediately.  Dad loves his lawn: a source of pride and joy and exercise.  Monthly fertilizer has yielded a deep emerald green turf, which Dad cuts twice a week on his riding mower.  Plus: string trimming, driveway edging, shrub shaping, limb pruning, and dandelion digging—spread throughout the week in manageable increments.  The push mower is for the corners the riding mower won’t reach.  When Dad was pushing the mower downhill toward the garage one day, it ran away from him and dumped him on the concrete driveway.  Providentially, Dad broke no bones.  I knew that a broken hip or leg, or a blow to the head, could have been the beginning of the end, with long-term convalescence away from home.  When they told me what had happened, I received a sudden conviction: now was the time—immediately—to move in with Mom and Dad and do what I could to keep them in their home for the remainder of their days (may they be long).